Economy

Worldwide ransomware attack linked to hacked NSA cyberwarfare arsenal

Worldwide ransomware attack linked to hacked NSA cyberwarfare arsenal

Russian Federation appeared to be the hardest hit, according to security experts, with the country's Interior Ministry confirming it was struck. However, researchers with security software maker Avast said they had observed 57,000 infections in 99 countries, also citing Taiwan among the top targets.

Shortly after that disclosure, Microsoft announced that it had already issued software "patches" for those holes.

Security experts said this morning that the ransomware appeared to be infiltrating organisations through innocent looking emails, which instruct employees to click on an email attachment.

A cyber attack which hit Britain's National Health Service (NHS) was declared as a major incident Friday night, with British Prime Minister Theresa May saying it was an worldwide attack.

"So what we're seeing is this very run-of-the-mill malware that's being adopting these exploits, adopting these kind of weaponized attacks and using them to spread across networks and demand ransom".

Speaking to Sky News, she said: "It is disappointing that they have been running Windows XP - I know that the Secretary of State for Health has instructed them not to and most have moved off it".

Spain's Industry Ministry said in a separate statement that the attack had not affected networks or customers using services offered by the companies targeted.

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Although cyber extortion cases have been rising for several years, they have to date affected small-to-mid sized organisations, disrupting services provided by hospitals, police departments, public transport systems and utilities in the United States and Europe.

Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at the Helsinki-based cybersecurity company F-Secure, called the attack "the biggest ransomware outbreak in history".

The government has said there are no reports of any Irish companies caught up in the attack so far.

Tech experts are now battling to fix the problem, which the NHS has declared a "major incident", and computers at walk-in centres, hospitals, and at GP surgeries have been taken offline, along with some telephone services.

It encrypts files on a user's computer, blocking them from view, before demanding money, via an on-screen message, to access them again.

Telecoms firm Telefonica was one of those reporting problems, along with courier firm FedEx.

There was no immediate comment from the Health Ministry or from Prime Minister Theresa May who was campaigning in northeast England ahead of a general election next month.

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Telefonica said the attack was limited to some computers on an internal network and had not affected clients or services.

Pictures posted on social media showed screens of NHS computers with images demanding payment of 300 USA dollars worth of the online currency Bitcoin, saying: "Ooops, your files have been encrypted!"

Affected users can restore files if they have them backed up on an external hard-drive, or may be forced to pay the ransom to avoid losing their data entirely. "It's stressful enough for someone going through recovery or treatment for cancer".

According to Matthew Hickey, founder of the security firm Hacker House, Friday's attack is not surprising, and it shows many organizations do not apply updates in a timely fashion.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks some NHS IT leaders were critical of Carecert's initial response and the lack of clear and effective communications. In Spain, major companies including telecommunications firm Telefónica were infected.

Ransomware attacks are on the rise around the world.

Back up computers. This doesn't stop a computer from being attack but effectively renders it ineffective because it is easy to re-install the system from a backup should it become locked by ransomware.

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